How Saints Die – Carmen Marcus (Book Review)

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Discovering the release of this book was happy accident – the cover caught my attention, followed by the plot, followed by the discovery that the author and I share a hometown(!):

Ten years old and irrepressibly curious, Ellie lives with her fisherman father, Peter, on the wild North Yorkshire coast. It’s the 1980s and her mother’s breakdown is discussed only in whispers, with the promise ‘better by Christmas’ and no further explanation.

Steering by the light of her dad’s sea-myths, her mum’s memories of home across the water, and a fierce spirit all her own, Ellie begins to learn – in these sudden, strange circumstances – who she is and what she can become. By the time the first snowdrops show, her innocence has been shed, but at great cost.

The story is set in a quickly changing fishing village on the coast of the North Sea. Peter, a fisherman suffering from vertigo, makes a living mending nets and supporting fishermen to support his small family – his wife who is now in hospital, and his young daughter, Ellie.

Ellie is unaware what the state of her mother is, but the whole school know her mum is ‘mad’. As Robin, a new boy joins, a friendship sparks despite the current against them.

The story is interesting in the sense of it’s atmosphere – it all seems very dimly lit, but captivating. My curiosity kept me reading, despite aspects that often put me off – namely magical realism (though granted allowing for metaphor).

Allowing for the time the novel is set, I would have expected further consequences for the actions of some characters, though perhaps, not being born then, I am interpreting past situational circumstances in the light of modern time.

The characters are certainly intriguing and I quickly felt strongly about them when the novel began, and this developed well throughout.

It was great to read a book set in a location I am familiar with, and will certainly encourage me to read more ‘local’ fiction in the future.

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (Book Review)

The first book for Book Club this year was The Bell Jar; a book I’ve been meaning to read for a little while now:

We follow Esther Greenwood’s personal life from her summer job in New York with Ladies’ Day magazine, back through her days at New England’s largest school for women, and forward through her attempted suicide, her bad treatment at one asylum and her good treatment at another, to her final re-entry into the world like a used tyre: “patched, retreaded, and approved for the road” … Esther Greenwood’s account of her year in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing.

I was first introduced to Sylvia Plath through her poem Lady Lazarus; the bleak acceptance of a reality she knew in it drew me to explore her writings further, and it only made sense to want to read the novel she wrote too.

The book is written much like her poetry – clever metaphors, well flowing language, and brute honesty. Plath is often too bleak for many to read and enjoy, but to take a step into her shoes and see the world as she does, we find ourselves being completely honest with ourselves, and falling to melancholy.

Perhaps I enjoyed this book because of this – that the author identifies so much that many would read publicly and laugh about, but individually sympathise with and weep.

This book is often described as “a young woman’s descent into madness”, but I can’t help but think that’s a little bit dated considering what it is: an account of a person with severe depression – a feeling that many can sympathise with today; recognising their own thoughts in that of the Narrators.

To those who have never experience such a thing, it may be a good read to catch a glimpse, and to those who have, a reminder of there being no solitude in the struggle.